Measurement and Meaning in Biology

  title={Measurement and Meaning in Biology},
  author={David Houle and Christophe P{\'e}labon and G{\"u}nter P. Wagner and Thomas F. Hansen},
  journal={The Quarterly Review of Biology},
  pages={3 - 34}
Measurement—the assignment of numbers to attributes of the natural world—is central to all scientific inference. Measurement theory concerns the relationship between measurements and reality; its goal is ensuring that inferences about measurements reflect the underlying reality we intend to represent. The key principle of measurement theory is that theoretical context, the rationale for collecting measurements, is essential to defining appropriate measurements and interpreting their values… 
Measurement in biology is methodized by theory
It is argued that biological measurement is relative to a natural history which is shared by the different objects subjected to the measurement and is more or less constrained by biologists.
The relativity of biological function
It is argued that all biologically meaningful interpretations of function are necessarily context dependent, which implies that they derive their meaning as well as their range of applicability only within a specific theoretical and measurement context.
Measuring gene interactions.
Work showing that patterns of epistasis may have profound effects on evolutionary dynamics are reviewed and how these patterns can be measured is discussed.
This chapter discusses measurement theory, which concerns the relationship between measurements and reality and the role of numbers in this relationship.
Historicity at the heart of biology
It is argued that all observations depend on objects defined by their historical origin instead of their relations as in physics, and regularities are constraints with limited validity in biology.
Two rules for the detection and quantification of epistasis and other interaction effects.
It is argued that the arbitrariness in the definition and detection of epistasis, and any other interaction, can be eliminated if the authors observe measurement theoretical constraints on the treatment of quantitative data.
Orienting the causal relationship between imprecisely measured traits using genetic instruments
An extension to Mendelian randomisation, a method that uses genetic associations in an instrumentation framework, that enables inference of the causal direction between traits, with some advantages, is introduced, which is less susceptible to bias in the presence of measurement error and more statistically efficient.
Absolutely Zero Evidence
Statistical analysis is often used to evaluate the evidence for or against scientific hypotheses, and various statistics (e.g., p-values, likelihood ratios, Bayes factors) are interpreted as measures
Which first principles for mathematical modelling in biology
A change of perspective leads to reconsider the meaning of measurements and the structure of the space of description in biology, and exemplify several aspects of this framework with the modeling of allometric relationships.
Biological scaling analyses are more than statistical line fitting.
  • D. S. Glazier
  • Environmental Science
    The Journal of experimental biology
  • 2021
It is argued that the use of logarithms in scaling analyses presents multiple valuable advantages, both statistical and conceptual, and allows biologically meaningful, properly scaled (scale-independent) comparisons of organisms of different size, whereas non-scaled analyses based on untransformed arithmetic data do not.


Abstract Measurement Theory.
The need for quantitative measurement represents a unifying bond that links all the physical, biological, and social sciences. Measurements of such disparate phenomena as subatomic masses,
  • G. Wagner
  • Biology
    Evolution; international journal of organic evolution
  • 2010
It is concluded that measurement theory is able to give definite answers to a number theoretical and practical questions and identifies the correct scale for measuring gene interaction with respect to fitness and shows that different scales may lead to wrong conclusions.
Measurement theory: Frequently asked questions
What is measurement theory? What is measurement? Why should I care about measurement theory? What are permissible transformations? What are levels of measurement? What about binary (0/1) variables?
Measurement and Meaningfulness in Conservation Science
  • A. Wolman
  • Environmental Science
    Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology
  • 2006
Recognizing the complexity of observation and measurement in conservation biology, and the constraints that measurement theory imposes, the examples are accompanied by suggestions for informal estimation of the scale type of conservation data and for conducting meaningful analysis and synthesis of this information.
Mathematical structures and psychological measurements
The nature of psychological measurements in relation to mathematical structures and representations is examined. Some very general notions concerning algebras and systems are introduced and applied
Interpretation of the Coefficient in the Allometric Equation
Interpretation of the coefficient, b, in the allometric equation, y = b xk, is much disputed, and many presume it devoid of biological meaning. Difficulties impeding the interpretation of b are
Perspectives on Dimensional Analysis in Scaling Studies
  • J. Prothero
  • Physics
    Perspectives in biology and medicine
  • 2002
This article discusses several well-known examples of their application to bioscaling problems and gives reasons for doubting their validity and concludes that this methodology is unlikely to provide explanations applicable to scale-up in diverse species.
Dimensional analysis and theory of biological similarity.
The body weight of an organism is an adequate reference index for the correlation of morphological and physiological characteristics and the statistical analysis of the experimental data can be represented conveniently by means of the logarithmic equivalent of Huxley's allometric equation.
Statistics and the Theory of Measurement
One general conclusion is that the domains of applicability of the two major theories are typically different, and it is this which helps apparent contradictions to be avoided in most practical applications.
Statistics and the theory of measurement
One general conclusion is that the domains of applicability of the two major theories are typically different, and it is this which helps apparent contradictions to be avoided in most practical applications.